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Thyssen-Bornemisza Museum and Fundación Caja Madrid Present Modigliani and his Times
Amedeo Modigliani, Nude, 1917, Oil on canvas, Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York.

MADRID, SPAIN.-The exhibition Modigliani and his Times, which just opened, is another exhibition project jointly organised by the Museo Thyssen-Bornemisza and Fundación Caja Madrid. It brings together a total of 126 works with the aim of analysing the career of one of the great figures of 20th-century art: Amedeo Modigliani (1884-1920), from the time of his arrival in Paris in 1906 up to his death. The principal innovation in this ambitious project is the fact that for the first time it will present Modigliani’s work in a direct dialogue with that of the great masters of the past who influenced him – Cézanne, Picasso and Brancusi – and with that of his friends in Montparnasse, including Marc Chagall, Jacques Lipchitz, Chaďm Soutine, Moďse Kisling, Ossip Zadkine, Tsugouharu Foujita and Jules Pascin.

A Dialogue with Masters and Friends - As an artist, Modigliani was open to the art of the leading avant-garde movements in Paris prior to World War I but at the same time he chose to remain apart from them. When his work is seen alongside that of his fellow artists – great names of art history as well as others who are now less well known or even forgotten but who played a role in European art of the early 20th century – it is possible to correctly appreciate Modigliani’s oeuvre. In the exhibition, his unique portraits, nudes, sculptures, drawings and a few rare landscapes are exhibited alongside examples of work by Gauguin, Cézanne, Picasso, Brancusi and Derain. This juxtaposition allows the visitor to appreciate not just influences, similarities and parallels but also casts new light on the artist by presenting his works within the context in which they were created, revealing their powerful, sophisticated and elegant nature.

The works brought together in this exhibition have been loaned from numerous private collections, museums and institutions worldwide. Particularly important in terms of both the quality and the number of works are the loans from the National Gallery of Art in Washington, the Tate in London, the Muzeul de Arta in Craiova (Romania), the MoMA in New York, the Centre Georges Pompidou in Paris, the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, the Association des Amis du Petit Palais in Geneva, the Staatsgalerie Stuttgart, the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum in New York, the Musée Zadkine de la Ville de Paris, and various private collections.

The exhibition is structured into two principal sections analysing the relationship between Modigliani and his masters, shown in the rooms of the Thyssen-Bornemisza Collection, and between the artist and his friends, on display in the exhibition space of Fundación Caja Madrid. It is also organised chronologically, as follows:

MUSEO THYSSEN-BORNEMISZA - The major Retrospectives

A year after his arrival in Paris, Modigliani exhibited seven of his works at the Salon d’Automne of 1907 at the Grand Palais. The major retrospectives on show in Paris at the time, including those devoted to Gauguin (1906) and Cézanne (1907), also at the Salon d’Automne, as well as those on Toulouse-Lautrec (1908) and another on Cézanne (1910) at Galerie Bernheim-Jeune, had a crucial influence on the young Modigliani’s development as an artist. Also vital was the early work of Picasso, whom he may have met on one of his visits to the galleries of Ambroise Vollard or Clovis Sagot.

As a consequence of his first contacts with the Parisian avant-garde, Modigliani experienced a clash between his own academic training and the rejection of old art on the part of the leading avant-garde movements. The works on display in this first room show how Modigliani attempted to forge his own style, influenced by the example of all the above-mentioned artists but particularly by Cézanne. Modigliani grasped how Cézanne had resolved the conflict between the art of the Old Masters and the use of a completely modern visual idiom.

Studying Sculpture - Modigliani had wanted to be a sculptor since the time of his arrival in Paris; he himself commented to his friends on various occasions that his dedication to painting was merely “alimentary” while he waited to be able to develop his true vocation. This vocation would flourish following his discovery of African Art and his new friendship with the Rumanian sculptor Constantin Brancusi who encouraged Modigliani to embark on direct carving in stone, abandoning the vestiges of the late-Romantic style of his earliest works.

Derain and Picasso were among the first avant-garde artists in Paris to be interested in African art and to express this interest in their work. Modigliani, who may have known Les Demoiselles d’Avignon at an early date, studied African art in the company of his friend and patron Paul Alexandre on their numerous visits to the ethnographic department in the Trocadero from 1908 onwards. Inspired by African models, that year Modigliani produced his first studies of heads and caryatids, of which various magnificent examples are on display in this room.

Modigliani devoted himself to sculpture almost exclusively for five years. This period would influence all his later work and was crucial for the development of his mature pictorial style.

Portraits I - Modigliani was primarily prevented from continuing as a sculptor due to tuberculosis as the stone dust irritated his lungs. In the summer of 1914, as World War I broke out, the writer Max Jacob introduced Modigliani to the art dealer Paul Guillaume. Although he had not yet abandoned sculpture at this date, the artist introduced himself to Guillaume as a painter.

From 1915 Modigliani devoted himself to portraiture as his principal means of survival and as a way of expressing the multi-cultural reality of Montparnasse. Modigliani’s first portraits (1914) were still influenced by the Fauve palette, but this soon gave way to a period that reveals a proximity to Cubism – a movement with which Modigliani was associated on more than one occasion after he exhibited in the “Cubist Room” at the Salon d’Automne of 1912. Nonetheless, his portraits were still markedly independent and influenced by his own experience as a sculptor. By 1916 to 1917 he had forged his own unique style characterised by a synthesis of line and volume but always maintaining a balance between the formal structure of the work and a faithful description of the sitter’s physical appearance.

Notable among the group of portraits on display in this room are the portraits of Anna Zborowska, the wife of Modigliani’s friend and dealer Léopold Zborowski, the painters Diego Rivera and Juan Gris, the Jewish writer Max Jacob, Modigliani’s lover and companion, Jeanne Hébuterne, and his own self-portrait.

Nudes I - Modigliani had painted female nudes since the time of his arrival in Paris. His first works were notably expressive and maintain the Symbolist concept of the female body as the source of sin. Gradually these figures lost their moralising content and became imbued with a Mediterranean sensuality. Modigliani’s major nudes date from 1917 and were painted on Zborowski’s request in his apartment on rue Joseph Bara, with the idea that he would sell them to collectors of cutting-edge modern art. The 30 or so works painted between 1917 and 1919 did not, however, meet with the expected success.

In his nudes Modigliani continued the great tradition of the reclining nude initiated by Giorgione in the 16th century, without, however, renouncing a fully modern mode of expression. This is evident in the way he flattened out the female forms, his use of an unusually close viewpoint almost like a photographic close-up, and the importance he placed on line as an expressive element. The combination of all these factors has made Modigliani’s reclining nudes icons of modern art.

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February 6, 2008

Thyssen-Bornemisza Museum and Fundación Caja Madrid Present Modigliani and his Times

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